Landscape Photography Trip Iceland – May 2015
I was tired from the day before so decided to like in and forget about the early sun that I knew would be hidden by cloud in any case. After a leisurely breakfast, during which one of the hotel staff explained that Iceland is experiencing freakish weather even by local standards), I headed out towards Dettifoss waterfall (touted as Europe’s most powerful), but unfortunately about 3km down the access road, the drifts were too deep and I had to turn back. Its like I got beamed up from one planet (Snaefellsnes) and put on another!
On the return journey, I picked up a few abstract shots of rock amidst snow and headed back to my accommodation for lunch and a bit of writing. Along the way I noted one car off the road and down a bank, so checked the occupants were OK. They had already called for a tow truck and I was reminded once again how careful you have to be on these roads! I was tempted to photograph their predicament to post on the blog but decided to leave the last shred of their dignity intact! It looks like they turned out of a T-junction with too much speed, hit ice and then went over the other side 😀 I should not laugh, the Mighty Micra hit some drifted snow earlier and the wheels got snatched one way, but after a brief wrestling match all was well! It’s a good job, because I was on a bridge at the time….
During the afternoon, light levels rose from ‘dark grey/white’ to ‘light grey white’ and I welcomed the additional clarity that arrives when the snow stops falling. Shortly after heading out to drive the loop around Lake Myvatn, photographic excitement bit for the first time since arriving in iceland! I’m not sure that I can explain why, but it’s a good sign when you take the first photograph after less than 100m of driving and so it was for the rest of the day: stopping regularly to explore small developments in the contours of the landscape and the relationships between its elements. Maybe the change was in my head, but I think it was due to the fact that the light became more interesting. It was still grey and white, but as the snow came and went, each scene continuously changed. The landscape became dynamic for the first time, holding surprised. I had to work very quickly, however, because in ten seconds the clear scene you were looking at could change to ‘hazy’ and in another 30 be hard to see at all. I therefore shot everything handheld. The 645Z may not have image stabilisation, but it does have insanely good high ISO. Shooting at 800 seems roughly like shooting at roughly 250/320 on the A7 i.e. nothing to give real thought to.
The first absolutely magical moment was when I noticed sever swans and ducks at the edge of the northern section of the lake and I could see Hyverfjall (ring crater, striped due to wind blown snow) in the distance. It is hard to put words to what it was that captivated me about the scene, but I raced to put the 75mm on the camera and walked towards the birds. I first walked at 90 degrees towards where I wanted to end up so as to reach the edge of the lake without walking directly towards the birds. I then skirted the edge of the lake with my head down, making no eye contact of course and very gradually raised by camera before reaching them so there would be no sudden movement to scare them off. They were clearly a little edgy to begin with, but I managed to shoot off several frames, isolating a pair of ducks, the pair of swans and also both pairs together. I was able to work in the contours of the ice and the result is one of the strongest shots I have produced in a long time.
Today it became clear that I am shooting two completely separate bodies of work during this trip. Some of what I am shooting will sit alongside the previous photographs I shot in Iceland in January, but others are subtler and will reside in a colour portfolio. Do you remember me talking about the sense of space, rawness and rhythm of the Icelandic landscape? Well, the visual solution just ‘happened’, as a result of exploring how the white snow grounds and reframes other colours in the landscape, as well as rendering contrasts that would not otherwise exist. Such a landscape is full or patterns and rhythms that one’s eye (and heart) responds to in an instant. They sometimes appear to be too formal, or perfect to be accidental, but of course they are not random at all. They are the product of natural forces, where wind, water and light shape what we see and there are reasons why. The non-randomness of these things appeals to be, along with the fact that whilst everywhere, they are so easily missed. One just has to keep one’s eyes peeled, get into the rhythm of the landscape and try not to drive off a cliff while seeing how distances teases apart two compacted elements to create something completely different. As I was uploading the images to LR, I could see the rhythm of my work and the feelings I was having take shape visually and as a distinct body of work. Post Processing them well will be very difficult (handling white in overcast light across many images always is) but I am excited, because the ideas I have been having give me something I can add to over time, from many different locations around the world. Many of the frames are somewhat empty, minimalistic, perhaps gentle is another word I’d use. Finally feelings that go back to my first trip to Iceland with my boys are taking shape. Hopefully I will be able to shoot more for this series and present something with integrity in the coming weeks.
Once I had completed my Myvatn lap, I headed back to Godafoss waterfall to explore the east bank of the river (I shot from the west side the day before) and was once again reminded of what a superb site this is. Not only is the waterfall one of the most visually compelling in Iceland, it there are many more shooting possibilities than at most. The east bank perhaps provides the better view overall and there are a number of smaller falls close by (as well as some small bridges with potential). I was there in the evening (about 2000hrs) and the gloomy weather and rumbling stomachs conspired so that I had it to myself! The only downside is that the edge of my Lee ND filter cracked off due to the excessive tightness of the Zomei holder I have. I have a Lee holder in storage (cannot access it) so figured I’d get a cheap Zomei to carry me through this trip, but that turns out not to have been as wise as I thought. Thankfully its only an extreme corner and the filter remains fully usable.
Click below for Day 7!